While I am still working on putting together all my thoughts from The Summit, I found this article which really speaks to a lot of what I have been thinking about lately... so I wanted to share it here:
Goodbye, Christian America; Hello, True Christianity
by Richard Stearns
The day I became a Christian, one of the first people I wanted to tell was my mother. I had considered myself an atheist while I studied neurobiology in college. But as I studied more, I discovered Jesus and became a Christian. It was the early 1970s, and my mother's response to my life-changing decision captured the view of most Americans at that time: "That's nice, but isn't everybody Christian?"
Times have changed. According to a recent survey by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number of Protestants has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in American history. Catholic adherents have remained stable thanks to immigration, but many U.S.-born Catholics are leaving the church. The survey also revealed another startling fact: the number of people who are not affiliated with any faith rose four percent in just the last five years. Nearly 20 percent of the population say they are of no specific faith at all.
If my mother were alive today, I think she would agree that we are quickly moving toward a secular society.
As this cultural shift has occurred, many Christians have reacted in frustration. We have fought to place the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and Christmas crèches outside town halls. We have sued over public prayers and crosses in state parks. One court recently weighed in on whether cheerleaders at a Texas school should be allowed to post Bible verses on their banners.
While symbols can be important, we have focused perhaps too much on them instead of the underlying reality they reflect. Instead, we need to go back to the basics of living as disciples of Christ, living missionally for Christ and demonstrating the Gospel in tangible ways within our schools, workplaces and communities. While I would be happy to see the Ten Commandments back on the courthouse wall, the fight over symbolic issues is backfiring, alienating people from the truths of the gospel rather than attracting them to it. The kind of Christianity the world responds to is the authentic "love your neighbor" kind. Its appeal can't be legislated through court battles and neither can courts stop its spread.
Dean Curry, senior pastor of Life Center Church in Tacoma, Wash., is a pastor who has made this change. He told me that a decade ago people would say to him, "You're the church that has that neat Christmas pageant." Like many churches, Life Center was also best known for what it opposed.
But that began to change after he made a trip to Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa in 2005. Dean had an encounter with suffering and an encounter with God. After witnessing the ravages of AIDS and the plight of orphans he had met one day, Dean lay in a bed in a grass-roofed hut weeping. He was overwhelmed by a problem that was so much bigger than anything his church could address.
"This is too big for our church," he said. "We can't just add this to our missions budget. How can I do this?" Dean believes that God gave him an answer that night. "You need to mobilize your city to care for these orphans." The group returned to Tacoma with broken hearts and a determination to come together as a city to help this tiny country of Lesotho 10,000 miles away. The Global Neighbor project was born.
Today, now seven years later, more than 5,000 people have become involved in one way or another. The mayor, public schools, Rotary Clubs, other churches, small businesses, judges, the head of the humane society, the Jewish community and some of the local policemen: They are all transforming lives half a world away. Pastor Curry told me, "We also engaged folks from the gay community. These were people who wouldn't have returned my call as an evangelical leader but now they want to partner with the church."
They achieved in five years what they expected to take 15. HIV/AIDS orphans received help. Those who are HIV positive receive care so that their children won't become orphans.
In the seven years since the Global Neighbor Project began, Life Center Church has seen its membership double. Pastor Curry told me, "We used to be known as that church with the big Christmas pageant -- now we're known as the church that is helping AIDS orphans."
There was a time when Pastor Curry might have worried about things like posting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, but today he's too busy changing the city of Tacoma and world. This is the work Christians are called to do. Christians can stop worrying about the symbols of the decline of Christian America and get back to the mission Jesus gave us to show the world a different way to live -- a way that demonstrates the great character of God: his love, his justice, his compassion, his forgiveness and his reconciliation.
Lots more to blog about, but it has been SO full (wonderfully full) here at #thesummit that I have to find the time to actually write the blogs to post. But they are coming, so stay tuned! This conference has been AMAZING - structured basically like a TED Conference for Youth Leaders. I've already got 27 pages of single-spaced type written notes, and there are still 8 speakers left to hear between the current session and the last session later this afternoon.
I am currently on my way to Atlanta, Georgia for the Youth
Ministry Summit put on by the Youth Cartel
To be completely honest, I have completely opposite emotions
tugging at my heart, mind, and soul right now.
One the one hand I am excitedly anxious about what is ahead this
weekend, and on the other hand I am fearfully nervous. I realize that may sound confusing, so
hopefully as I share what is behind those feelings it will become clear.
First of all, I have to state how incredibly blessed I am to
be attending this conference! I had
attended at least one youth ministry conference per year for 16-years straight
from 1995 through 2010. Last year, in
2011, was the first year that I did not attend a youth ministry conference at
all. Even that, alone, was cause for
mixed emotions. It felt strange, almost
wrong, to not be attending one. It felt
like the “end” in many ways – the end of an era, the end of my career, the end
of my calling to church youth ministry, and many other little “ends.” But there was just no way that I could attend
one in 2011. I was no longer employed by
a church working in paid, church youth ministry. I moved in June of 2011 from Texas to
Northern, California. My wife started
working full time. I was searching for
work. We were living with family. Expenses were still pouring in, but the
income was not. I no longer had a youth
ministry budget (continuing education budget) to offset (if not pay completely)
the expenses of a Youth Ministry Conference.
So, given everything, there really wasn’t even any possibility of me
attending one. And then 2012 rolled
around. Basically everything listed
above remained the same other than the fact that I was working 2-3 part-time
jobs to try and make some extra income for our family. But expenses were still high and income was
not. So I entered into 2012 with the
mindset and understanding that I would not attend a youth ministry conference
again this year.
In the summer of 2012 I received an email from Adam McLane
asking me if I was planning on attending the Summit in Atlanta in November of
2012. I replied to him and told him that
as much as I would LOVE to be there, I just could not afford it. I was given the very generous offer of a
scholarship for the conference itself.
This was extremely generous and I was very thankful for it, but the
truth of the matter remained that I was not in a position to be able to afford
the flight from Quincy, CA to Atlanta, GA, the cost of the hotel room, or some
of the other expenses that I would incur.
So, I thanked Adam for his generous offer, and shared with him a bit
more detailed information regarding why, even with this great offer, I still
could not afford to come to the Summit – as much as I wanted to. He said he understood, and I assumed that was
the final conclusion to this opportunity.
However, the very next day I received an email from Adam
letting me know that there was a possibility of my being able to attend. To make a fairly long (and probably boring
for everyone else) story short, Adam informed me that there was someone who was
a supporter of the Youth Ministry Cartel and wanted to support the Summit, but
was not able to attend personally, and so this individual wanted to scholarship
someone else to be able to attend. This
included the airfare, hotel, conference fee, and anything left over could be
used to help cover some costs of meals.
Adam shared my information with this individual and he wanted to offer
me this scholarship to be able to attend.
So, within about a month I was given the finances to buy my plane
ticket, reserve my hotel room, Adam and Marko comped my registration fees… and
here I am on my way to the Summit!!! So,
that is by far the first reason I am so excited to be going to the Summit.
Why else am I excited?
I’m looking forward to being together again with
so many of my Youth Ministry colleagues whom I have known for many years now.
I’m excited to see what God has to teach me
during this conference and what He has to speak into my heart.
I’m looking forward to learning, and sharing,
and learning some more.
I’m looking forward to attending a Youth
Ministry conference unlike any others I’ve attended before – with a different
format, different focus, and different expectations.
I, personally, LOVE conferences. So I am looking forward to going, period!
However, there is the flip side of this coin for me which
has me also feeling fearfully nervous.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words the reasons for
this feeling, and they all seem to come out wrong, but I’m going to try.
What makes me fearfully nervous?
Well, the first thing isn’t really something
that makes me feel fear or nervousness, but I am sad to be away from my wife
and daughters for a four days! I already
miss them terribly. The truth is I do
struggle at times with feeling guilty for being away and having a blast at
something like this when Christi is back at home having to take care of
everything. However, she is so
incredibly supportive about my attending, which helps out tremendously.
I think the biggest fearfully nervous feeling I
have is that of “what next God?” I am so
thankful for this opportunity to attend the Summit, but am wondering also what
God has in store for me personally from it (which I plan to blog about through
the conference, and hopefully after as well).
Where I am currently living, there is not the opportunity to be in paid,
full-time church youth ministry. So one
of my fears of this conference is that my calling and passion to be doing Youth
Ministry (in the most commonly assumed understanding of that term) will be
re-ignited and I will be yearning to get back into that position – however our family
life, situation and circumstances do not currently allow for this to
Following from this fear is the fear of, “then
what?” If I’m not able to be back in
paid, church youth ministry, then what is God calling me to do with my life
now? Ever since my freshman year of
college I have felt the clear call on my life from God to be in church youth
ministry. I did that for 21 years
straight, until 2011. Now, for the first
time in my life, I am struggling to know what is God’s calling on my life. I do realize that Youth Ministry can, and
does, happen in other contexts than within the church. But I still find the challenge of where we
live in this regard because opportunities are very limited.
So, I’m headed to Atlanta with pendulum-edge emotions about
what to expect and what is ahead. So, I
guess with that… stay tuned...